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Chapter 6

  • 'By God,' Wriothesley said when she entered the long gallery where the me_ere. 'This is a fair woman!'
  • She had command of her features, and her eyes were upon the ground; it was _art of a woman's upbringing to walk well, and her masters had so taught he_hen she had lived with her grandmother, the old duchess. Not the tips of he_hoes shewed beneath the zigzag folds of her russet-brown underskirt; the tip_f her scarlet sleeves netted with gold touched the waxed wood of the floor; her hood fell behind to the ground, and her fair hair was golden where th_unlight fell on it with a last, watery ray.
  • Upon Privy Seal she raised her eyes; she bent her knees so that her gow_pread out all around her when she curtsied, and, having arranged it with _low hand, she came to her height again, rustling as if she rose from a wave.
  • 'Sir,' she said, 'I come to pray you to right a great wrong done by you_ervants.'
  • 'By God!' Wriothesley said, 'she speaks high words.'
  • 'Madam Howard,' Cromwell answered—and his eyes graciously dwelt upon her tal_orm. She had clasped her hands before her lap and looked into his face.
  • 'Madam Howard, you are more learned in the better letters than I; but I woul_ave you call to memory one Pancrates, of whom telleth Lucian. Being in _esert or elsewhere, this magician could turn sticks, stocks and stakes int_ervants that did his will. Mark you, they did his will—no more and no less.'
  • 'Sir,' Katharine said, 'ye have better servants than ever had Pancrates. The_o more than your behests.'
  • Cromwell bent his back, stretched aside his white hand and smiled still.
  • 'Ye trow truth,' he said. 'Yet ye do me wrong; for had I the servants o_ancrates, assuredly he should hear no groans of injustice from men of goo_ill.'
  • 'It is too good hearing,' Katharine said gravely. 'This is my tale——'
  • Once before she had trembled in this man's presence, and still she had _atching in the throat as her eyes measured his face. She was mad to do righ_nd to right wrongs, yet in his presence the doing of the right, the rightin_f wrongs, seemed less easy than when she stood before any other man. 'Sir,'
  • she uttered, 'I have thought ye have done ill afore now. I am nowise certai_hat ye thought your ill-doing an evil. I beseech you for a patient hearing.'
  • But, though she told her story well—and it was an old story that she ha_earned by heart—she could not be rid of the feeling that this was a less eas_atter than it had seemed to her, to call Cromwell accursed. She had a movin_ale of wrongs done by Cromwell's servant, Dr Barnes, a visitor of a church i_incolnshire near where her home had been. For the lands had been taken from _ittle priory upon an excuse that the nuns lived a lewd life; and so well ha_he known the nuns, going in and out of the convent every week-day, that wel_he knew the falseness of Cromwell's servant's tale.
  • 'Sir,' she said to Cromwell, 'mine own foster-sister had the veil there; min_wn mother's sister was there the abbess.' She stretched out a hand. 'Sir, they dwelled there simply and godly, withdrawn from the world; succouring th_oor; weaving of fine linens, for much flax grew upon those lands by there; and praying God and the saints that blessings fall upon this land.'
  • Wriothesley spoke to her slowly and heavily:
  • 'Such little abbeys ate up the substance of this land in the old days. Wel_ave we prospered since they were done away who ate up the fatness of thi_ealm. Now husbandmen till their idle soil and cattle are in their buildings.'
  • 'Gentleman whose name I know not,' she turned upon him, 'more wealth an_rosperity God granted us in answer to their prayers than could be won by al_he husbandmen of Arcadia and all the kine of Cacus. God standeth above al_en's labours.' But Cromwell's servants had sworn away the lands of the smal_bbey, and now the abbess and her nuns lay in gaol accused—and falsely—o_aving secreted an image of Saint Hugh to pray against the King's fortunes.
  • 'Before God,' she said, 'and as Christ is my Saviour, I saw and mak_eposition that these poor simple women did no such thing but loved the Kin_s he had been their good father. I have seen them at their prayers. Befor_od, I say to you that they were as folk astonished and dismayed; knowing s_ittle of the world that ne one ne other knew whence came the word that ha_ared them to the skies. I have seen them—I.'
  • 'Where went they?' Wriothesley said; 'what worked they?'
  • 'Gentleman,' she answered; 'being cast out of their houses and their veils, they knew nowhither to go; homes they had none; they lived with their ow_inds in hovels, like frightened lambs, the saints their pastors being drive_rom their folds.'
  • 'Aye,' Wriothesley said grimly, 'they cumbered the ground; they did meet i_nots for mutinies.'
  • 'God had appointed them the duty of prayer,' Katharine answered him. 'They me_nd prayed in sheds and lodges of the house that had been theirs, poor ghost_evisiting and bewailing their earthly homes. I have prayed with them.'
  • 'Ye have done a treason in that day,' Wriothesley answered.
  • 'I have done the best that ever I did for this land,' she met him fully. '_rayed naught against the King and the republic. I have prayed you and you_ike might be cast down. So do I still. I stand here to avow it. But the_ever did, and they do lie in gaol.' She turned again upon Cromwell and spok_iteously from her full throat. 'My lord,' she cried. 'Soften your heart an_et the wax in your ears melt so that ye hear. Your servants swore falsel_hen they said these women lived lewdly; your men swore falsely when they sai_hat these women prayed treasonably. For the one count they took their land_nd houses; for the other they lay them in the gaols. Sir, my lord, you_ervants go up and down this land; sir, my lord, they ride rich men with boot_f steel and do strangle the poor with gloves of iron. I do think ye know the_o it; I do pray ye know not. But, sir, if ye will right this wrong I wil_iss your hands; if you will set up again these homes of prayer I will take _eil, and in one of them spend my days praying that good befall you an_ours.' She paused in her speaking and then began again: 'Before I came here _ad made me a fair speech. I have forgot it, and words come haltingly to me.
  • Sirs, ye think I seek mine own aggrandisement; ye think I do wish ye cas_own. Before God, I wish ye were cast down if ye continue in these ways; but _ave prayed to God who sent the Pentecostal fires, to give me the gift o_ongues that shall soften your hearts——'
  • Cromwell interrupted her, smiling that Venus, who made her so fair, gave he_o need of a gift of tongues, and Minerva, who made her so learned, gave he_o need of fairness. For the sake of the one and the other, he would ver_iligently enquire into these women's courses. If they ha been guiltless, the_hould be richly repaid; if they ha been guilty, they should be pardoned.
  • Katharine flushed with a hot anger.
  • 'Ye are a very craven lord,' she said. 'If you may find them guilty, you shal_ave my head. But if you do find them innocent and shield them not, I swear _ill strive to have thine.' Anger made her blue eyes dilate. 'Have you n_owels of compassion for the right? Ye treat me as a fair woman—but I speak a_ messenger of the King's, that is God's, to men who too long have hardene_heir hearts.'
  • Throckmorton laid back his head and laughed suddenly at the ceiling; Cranme_rossed himself; Wriothesley beat his heel upon the floor and shrugged hi_houlders bitterly—but Lascelles, the Archbishop's spy, kept his eyes upo_hrockmorton's face with a puzzled scrutiny.
  • 'Why now does that man laugh?' he asked himself. For it seemed to him that b_aughing Throckmorton applauded Katharine Howard. And indeed, Throckmorto_pplauded Katharine Howard. As policy her speech was neither here nor there, but as voicing a spirit, infectious and winning to men's hearts, he saw tha_uch speaking should carry her very far. And, if it should embroil her mor_han ever with Cromwell, it would the further serve his adventures. He wa_lready conspiring to betray Cromwell, and he knew that, very soon now, Cromwell must pierce his mask of loyalty; and the more Katharine should hav_ast down her glove to Cromwell, the more he could shelter behind her; and th_ore men she could have made her friends with her beauty and her fin_peeches, the more friends he too should have to his back when the day o_iscovery came. In the meantime he had in his sleeve a trick that he woul_peedily play upon Cromwell, the most dangerous of any that he had played. Fo_elow the stairs he had Udal, with his news of the envoy from Cleves t_rance, and with his copies of the envoy's letters. But, in her turn, Katharine played him, unwittingly enough, a trick that puzzled him.
  • 'Bones of St Nairn!' he said; 'she has him to herself. What mad prank will sh_lay now?'
  • Katharine had drawn Cromwell to the very end of the gallery.
  • 'As I pray that Christ will listen to my pleas when at the last I come to Hi_or pardon and comfort,' she said, 'I swear that I will speak true words t_ou.'
  • He surveyed her, plump, alert, his lips moving one upon the other. He brough_ne white soft hand from behind his back to play with the furs upon his chest.
  • 'Why, I believe you are a very earnest woman,' he said.
  • 'Then, sir,' she said, 'understand that your sun is near its setting. We rise, we wane; our little days do run their course. But I do believe you love you_ing his cause more than most men.'
  • 'Madam Howard,' he said, 'you have been my foremost foe.'
  • 'Till five minutes agone I was,' she said.
  • He wondered for a moment if she were minded to beg him to aid her in growin_o be Queen; and he wondered too how that might serve his turn. But she spok_gain:
  • 'You have very well served the King,' she said. 'You have made him rich an_otent. I believe ye have none other desire so great as that desire to mak_im potent and high in this world's gear.'
  • 'Madam Howard,' he said calmly, 'I desire that—and next to found for myself _reat house that always shall serve the throne as well as I.'
  • She gave him the right to that with a lowering of her eyebrows.
  • 'I too would see him a most high prince,' she said. 'I would see him she_ustre upon his friends, terror upon his foes, and a great light upon thi_ealm and age.'
  • She paused to touch him earnestly with one long hand, and to brush back _trand of her hair. Down the gallery she saw Lascelles moving to speak wit_hrockmorton and Wriothesley holding the Archbishop earnestly by the sleeve.
  • 'See,' she said, 'you are surrounded now by traitors that will bring you down.
  • In foreign lands your cause wavers. I tell you, five minutes agone I wishe_ou swept away.'
  • Cromwell raised his eyebrows.
  • 'Why, I knew that this was difficult fighting,' he said. 'But I know not wha_iveth me your good wishes.'
  • 'My lord,' she answered, 'it came to me in my mind: What man is there in th_and save Privy Seal that so loveth his master's cause?'
  • Cromwell laughed.
  • 'How well do you love this King,' he said.
  • 'I love this King; I love this land,' she said, 'as Cato loved Rome o_eonidas his realm of Sparta.'
  • Cromwell pondered, looking down at his foot; his lips moved furtively, h_olded his hand inside his sleeves; and he shook his head when again she mad_o speak. He desired another minute for thought.
  • 'This I perceive to be the pact you have it in your mind to make,' he said a_ast, 'that if you come to sway the King towards Rome I shall still stay hi_an and yours?'
  • She looked at him, her lips parted with a slight surprise that he should s_ell have voiced thoughts that she had hardly put into words. Then her fait_ose in her again and moved her to pitiful earnestness.
  • 'My lord,' she uttered, and stretched out one hand. 'Come over to us. 'Ti_uch great pity else—'tis such pity else.'
  • She looked again at Throckmorton, who, in the distance, was surveying th_rchbishop's spy with a sardonic amusement, and a great mournfulness wen_hrough her. For there was the traitor and here before her was the betrayed.
  • Throckmorton had told her enough to know that he was conspiring against hi_aster, and Cromwell trusted Throckmorton before any man in the land; and i_as as if she saw one man with a dagger hovering behind another. With he_oman's instinct she felt that the man about to die was the better man, thoug_e were her foe. She was minded—she was filled with a great desire to say:
  • 'Believe no word that Throckmorton shall tell you. The Duke of Cleves is no_bandoning your cause.' That much she had learnt from Udal five minute_efore. But she could not bring herself to betray Throckmorton, who was _raitor for the sake of her cause. ''Tis such pity,' she repeated again.
  • 'Good wench,' Cromwell said, 'you are indifferent honest; but never while I a_he King's man shall the Bishop of Rome take toll again in the King's land.'
  • She threw up her hands.
  • 'Alack!' she said, 'shall not God and His Son our Saviour have their part o_he King's glory?'
  • 'God is above us all,' he answered. 'But there is no room for two heads of _tate, and in a State is room but for one army. I will have my King so stron_hat ne Pope ne priest ne noble ne people shall here have speech or power. S_t is now; I have so made it, the King helping me. Before I came this was _istracted State; the King's writ ran not in the east, not in the west, not i_he north, and hardly in the south parts. Now no lord nor no bishop nor n_ope raises head against him here. And, God willing, in all the world n_rince shall stand but by grace of this King's Highness. This land shall hav_he wealth of all the world; this King shall guide this land. There shall b_ich husbandmen paying no toll to priests, but to the King alone; there shal_e wealthy merchants paying no tax to any prince nor emperor, but only to thi_ing. The King's court shall redress all wrongs; the King's voice shall b_mnipotent in the council of the princes.'
  • 'Ye speak no word of God,' she said pitifully.
  • 'God is very far away,' he answered.
  • 'Sir, my lord,' she cried, and brushed again the tress from her forehead. 'Y_ave made this King rich with gear of the Church: if ye will be friends wit_e ye shall make this King a pauper to repay; ye have made this King stiffe_is neck against God's Vicegerent: if you and I shall work together ye shal_ake him re-humble himself. Christ the King of all the world was a pauper; Christ the Saviour of all mankind humbled Himself before God that was Hi_aviour.'
  • Cromwell said 'Amen.'
  • 'Sir,' she said again; 'ye have made this King rich, but I will give to hi_gain his power to sleep at night; ye have made this realm subject to thi_ing, but, by the help of God, I will make it subject again to God. You hav_et up here a great State, but oh, the children of God do weep since ye came.
  • Where is a town where lamentation is not heard? Where is a town where n_rphan or widow bewails the day that saw your birth?' She had sobs in he_oice and she wrung her hands. 'Sir,' she cried, 'I say you are as a dead ma_lready—your day of pride is past, whether ye aid us or no. Set yourself the_o redress as heartily as ye have set yourself in the past to make sad. Tha_and is blest whose people are happy; that State is aggrandised whence ther_rise songs praising God for His blessings. You have built up a great city o_roans; set yourself now to build a kingdom where "Praise God" shall be sung.
  • It is a contented people that makes a State great; it is the love of God tha_aketh a people rich.'
  • Cromwell laughed mirthlessly:
  • 'There are forty thousand men like Wriothesley in England,' he said. 'God hel_ou if you come against them; there are forty times forty thousand and fort_imes that that pray you not again to set disorder loose in this land. I hav_roken all stiff necks in this realm. See you that you come not against som_et.' He stopped, and added: 'Your greatest foes should be your own friends i_ be a dead man as you say.' And he smiled at her bewilderment when he ha_dded: 'I am your bulwark and your safeguard.'
  • … 'For, listen to me,' he took up again his parable. 'Whilst I be here I bea_he rancour of your friends' hatred. When I am gone you shall inherit it.'
  • 'Sir,' she said, 'I am not here to hear riddles, but here I am to pray yo_eek the right.'
  • 'Wench,' he said pleasantly, 'there are in this world many rights—you hav_ours; I mine. But mine can never be yours nor yours mine. I am not yet s_ead as ye say; but if I be dead, I wish you so well that I will send you _hial of poison ere I send to take you to the stake. For it is certain that i_ou have not my head I shall have yours.'
  • She looked at him seriously, though the tears ran down her cheeks.
  • 'Sir,' she uttered, 'I do take you to be a man of your word. Swear to me, then, that if upon the fatal hill I do save you your life and your estates, you will nowise work the undoing of the Church in time to come.'
  • 'Madam Queen that shall be,' he said, 'an ye gave me my life this day, to- morrow I would work as I worked yesterday. If ye have faith of your cause _ave the like of mine.'
  • She hung her head, and said at last:
  • 'Sir, an ye have a little door here at the gallery end I will go out by it'; for she would not again face the men who made the little knot before th_indow. He moved the hangings aside and stood before the aperture smiling.
  • 'Ye came to ask a boon of me,' he said. 'Is it your will still that I gran_t?'
  • 'Sir,' she answered, 'I asked a boon of you that I thought you would no_rant, so that I might go to the King and shew him your evil dealings with hi_ieges.'
  • 'I knew it well,' he said. 'But the King will not cast me down till the Kin_ath had full use of me.'
  • 'You have a very great sight into men's minds,' she uttered, and he laughe_oiselessly once again.
  • 'I am as God made me,' he said. Then he spoke once more. 'I will read you_ind if you will. Ye came to me in this crisis, thinking with yourself: _Liar_o unto the King saying, "This Cromwell is a traitor; cast him down, for h_eeks your ill." I will go unto the King saying, "This Cromwell grindeth th_aces of the poor and beareth false witness. Cast him down, though he serv_ou well, since he maketh your name to stink to heaven."_ So I read my fellow- men.'
  • 'Sir,' she said, 'it is very true that I will not be linked with liars. And i_s very true that men do so speak of you to the King's Highness.'
  • 'Why,' he answered her debonairly, 'the King shall listen neither to them no_o you till the day be come. Then he will act in his own good way—upon th_retext that I be a traitor, or upon the pretext that I have borne fals_itness, or upon no pretext at all.'
  • 'Nevertheless will I speak for the truth that shall prevail,' she answered.
  • 'Why, God help you!' was his rejoinder.
  • * * *
  • Going back to his friends in the window Cromwell meditated that it wa_ossible to imagine a woman that thought so simply; yet it was impossible t_magine one that should be able to act with so great a simplicity. On the on_and, if she stayed about the King she should be his safeguard, for it wa_ery certain that she should not tell the King that he was a traitor. And tha_bove all was what Cromwell had to fear. He had, for his own purposes, s_illed the King with the belief that treachery overran his land, that the Kin_aw treachery in every man. And Cromwell was aware, well enough, that such o_is adherents as were Protestant—such men as Wriothesley—had indeed boaste_hat they were twenty thousand swords ready to fall upon even the King if h_et against the re-forming religion in England. This was the greatest dange_hat he had—that an enemy of his should tell the King that Privy Seal ha_ehind his back twenty thousand swords. For that side of the matter Katharin_oward was even a safeguard, since with her love of truth she would assuredl_ombat these liars with the King.
  • But, on the other hand, the King had his superstitious fears; only that night, pale, red-eyed and heavy, and being unable to sleep, he had sent to rous_romwell and had furiously rated him, calling him knave and shaking him by th_houlder, telling him for the twentieth time to find a way to make a peac_ith the Bishop of Rome. These were only night-fears—but, if Cleves shoul_esert Henry and Protestantism, if all Europe should stand solid for the Pope, Henry's night-fears might eat up his day as well. Then indeed Katharine woul_e dangerous. So that she was indeed half foe, half friend.
  • It hinged all upon Cleves; for if Cleves stood friend to Protestantism th_ing would fear no treason; if Cleves sued for pardon to the Emperor and Rome, Henry must swing towards Katharine. Therefore, if Cleves stood firm t_rotestantism and defied the Emperor, it would be safe to work at destroyin_atharine; if not, he must leave her by the King to defend his very loyalty.
  • The Archbishop challenged him with uplifted questioning eyebrows, and h_nswered his gaze with:
  • 'God help ye, goodman Bishop; it were easier for thee to deal with this mai_han for me. She would take thee to her friend if thou wouldst curry wit_ome.'
  • 'Aye,' Cranmer answered. 'But would Rome have truck with me?' and he shook hi_ead bitterly. He had been made Archbishop with no sanction from Rome.
  • Cromwell turned upon Wriothesley; the debonair smile was gone from his face; the friendly contempt that he had for the Archbishop was gone too; his eye_ere hard, cruel and red, his lips hardened.
  • 'Ye have done me a very evil turn,' he said. 'Ye spoke stiff-necked folly t_his lady. Ye shall learn, Protestants that ye are, that if I be the flail o_he monks I may be a hail, a lightning, a bolt from heaven upon Lutherans tha_ross the King.'
  • The hard malice of his glance made Wriothesley quail and flush heavily.
  • 'I thought ye had been our friend,' he said.
  • 'Wriothesley,' Cromwell answered, 'I tell thee, silly knave, that I be frien_nly to them that love the order and peace I have made, under the King'_ighness, in this realm. If it be the King's will to stablish again the ol_aith, a hammer of iron will I be upon such as do raise their heads agains_t. It were better ye had never been born, it were better ye were dead an_sleep, than that ye raised your heads against me.' He turned, then he swun_ack with the sharpness of a viper's spring.
  • 'What help have I had of thee and thy friends? I have bolstered up Cleves an_is Lutherans for ye. What have he and ye done for me and my King? Your frien_he Duke of Cleves has an envoy in Paris. Have ye found for why he come_here? Ye could not. Ye have botched your errand to Paris; ye have spoke_aughtily in my house to a friend of the King's that came friendlily to me.'
  • He shook a fat finger an inch from Wriothesley's eyes. 'Have a care! I di_end my visitors to smell out treason among the convents and abbeys. Wait y_ill I send them to your conventicles! Ye shall not scape. Body of God! y_hall not scape.'
  • He placed a heavy hand upon Throckmorton's shoulder.
  • 'I would I had sent thee to Paris,' he said. 'No envoy had come there whos_apers ye had not seen. I warrant thou wouldst have ferreted them through.'
  • Throckmorton's eyes never moved; his mouth opened and he spoke with neithe_riumph nor malice:
  • 'In very truth, Privy Seal,' he said, 'I have ferreted through enow of them t_now why the envoy came to Paris.'
  • Cromwell kept his hands still firm upon his spy's shoulder whilst the swif_houghts ran through his mind. He scowled still upon Wriothesley.
  • 'Sir,' he said, 'ye see how I be served. What ye could not find in Paris m_an found for me in London town.' He moved his face round towards the grea_olden beard of his spy. 'Ye shall have the farms ye asked me for in Suffolk,'
  • he said. 'Tell me now wherefore came the Cleves envoy to France. Will Cleve_tay our ally, or will he send like a coward to his Emperor?'
  • 'Privy Seal,' Throckmorton answered expressionlessly—he fingered his beard fo_ moment and felt at the medal depending upon his chest—'Cleves will stay you_riend and the King's ally.'
  • A great sigh went up from his three hearers at Throckmorton's lie; an_mpassive as he was, Throckmorton sighed too, imperceptibly beneath the mantl_f his beard. He had burned his boats. But for the others the sigh was of _reat contentment. With Cleves to lead the German Protestant confederation, the King felt himself strong enough to make headway against the Pope, th_mperor and France. So long as the Duke of Cleves remained a rebel against hi_ord the Emperor, the King would hold over Protestantism the mantle of hi_rotection.
  • Cromwell broke in upon their thoughts with his swift speech.
  • 'Sirs,' he uttered, 'then what ye will shall come to pass. Wriothesley, _ardon thee; get thee back to Paris to thy mission. Archbishop, I trow tho_halt have the head of that wench. Her cousin shall be brought here again fro_rance.'
  • Lascelles, the Archbishop's spy, who kept his gaze upon Throckmorton's, sa_he large man's eyes shift suddenly from one board of the floor to another.
  • 'That man is not true,' he said to himself, and fell into a train of musing.
  • But from the others Cromwell had secured the meed of wonder that he desired.
  • He had closed the interview with a dramatic speech; he had given the_omething to talk of.